Current Issues in Web Technology
Games are meant to be fun.
As we discussed last week.
However, games can also be put to more ‘productive’ purposes.
There is a growing interest in the incorporation of gameplay
mechanics into other contexts.
A process known as Gamification.
A horrible word, I know.
The philosophy behind gamification is that ‘regular activities’
can be made fun with gameplay elements.
By marrying ‘dry’ elements of an activity to some gameplay
payloads (playloads, hoho), there are opportunities for
increasing user engagement.
Although the need for fun is often forgotten along the way.
So goes the theory.
Some of this we’ll talk about again when we start discussing
Persuasive technology incorporates gamification as a matter of
What’s in a game
Games are difficult to define at the best of times, but for the
purposes of today we’ll identify a game as incorporating four
A known goal
A set of fixed (although not necessarily immutable) rules
A feedback system that informs players how they are doing.
Participation is voluntary rather than enforced.
Things usually cease to be fun when we’re forced into them.
Notice here that we don’t talk about ‘fun’
Because you can have games that aren’t fun.
And those are more common than anyone would like.
Goals are the known quantity that we’re trying to reach.
In gamification, there is no reason that a goal has to be
Get this score
Beat this enemy
Play enough songs in a tour that everyone realises you are the rock
god you always knew yourself to be.
Reduce energy useage
Increase customer satisfaction by 10%
They do however have to be achievable.
We’ll talk more about this next week when we discuss flow.
We need a set of fixed rules to channel behaviour.
In a normal game, the rules (or often, ‘game mechanics’) define
the game itself.
A game without rules is perhaps best thought of as ‘undirected play’
You have <X> lives
You gain score by doing <Y>
You win a level by accomplishing <Z>
The rules define how we accumulate ‘in game’ rewards.
And these are then reflected in the feedback system.
But not necessarily all of them.
Feedback systems tell us how we’re doing in reaching our goal.
We gain nothing by being told at the end of a game that ‘we didn’t
do well enough’
We need a regular stream of information we can parse.
For many games, the fun comes from balancing feedback
Oh dear, I don’t have enough points here and time is running out,
so I need to try harder to do some of these things I have to do.
Feedback can be constant and small.
It can also be (in addition) long term and abstract.
Participation must be voluntary if buy-in is to be maintained.
Voluntary participation is at the core of gamification techniques.
People have to want to engage with the process.
You can define external reward structures around engagement.
‘Why are they making us do this stupid thing, it’s stupid and they’re
stupid for making us do it’
Coercion creates resentment.
Everyone who gets 100,000 points gets a starbucks voucher
But you shouldn’t be too heavy handed.
Everyone who gets less than 100,000 points is fired. Seriously. Clear
your desks, you’re done here.
Manifestations of Gamification
There are several ‘gamification design patterns’ that are
Achievements and badges
Top Ten/Twenty/Hundred tables of participants
Sometimes allowing for that money to be traded or cashed in.
Virtual elements can be traded to others/
All of these are easy to port into virtually any context.
Most of them are also very easy to implement.
Perhaps the most common tool of gamification is the
Usually, awarding of an achievement is announced to everyone
Upon accomplishing some task, you get a small badge added to
Sometimes, tangible rewards come with gaining an achievement.
Achievements are very popular because of the relative
simplicity of the implementation.
‘Did X meet these criteria?’
Yes – award achievement.
Achievements, like anything, can be badly implemented.
I once coded an achievement system for a small online game.
Around 120 players online at peak times.
I hadn’t spent a lot of thought in achievement design, just in the
technical architecture of the system.
The worst kind of achievements can encourage self-destructive
Which was more complicated than most, because it had to interface
with hundreds of legacy systems.
Many of the achievements I put in were terrible.
Most of the achievements were of the ‘Do X 100 times’ variety.
But they were tiered, so you got a ‘better’ achievement for doing it 1000
times. And then 10,000 times.
I know, I know.
My thinking at the time was ‘Well, nobody is going to actually do
them, so it’s just there as a reward for people playing the game
How wrong I was.
Instantly, people sat down and started to grind their way through
the longest and most tedious gameplay sessions of their lives.
And then said ‘Please sir, may I have some more?’
There were several reasons for this.
And again, they were all down to me.
First of all, I made the achievements give in game rewards.
Not huge rewards, but reasonably significant.
Second of all, I put in a top twenty table for the number of
achievement points people had.
Third of all, I made the achievement description say who had
been the first person to achieve it.
Leaderboards can be used for any quantifiable measure in a
Leaderboards have a powerful impact because they are social.
Average degree marks in modules
Sales earned in a quarter
Time spent helping old ladies across the road.
You can see where you rank in comparison to other people.
‘What, Frank in accounts has more quatloons than me? This is an
outrage that WILL NOT STAND’
They become especially powerful when they are localised.
Here’s where you stand in comparison to everyone in your department.
Virtual money serves as a semi-tangible reward that can be used to
increase engagement in a system.
You earn virtual currency during gameplay.
This can be used to buy new items for earning virtual currency, or things you can
However, you rarely earn ‘enough’.
So you can supplement that with real money.
You spend real money to buy fake money.
You spend real money to buy fake money!
This creates a pressure to engage, or to open up your wallet.
‘It’s less than the cost of a cheap DVD to get enough fake money to buy that
Virtual Money and the Social
This becomes a powerful force for gamification engagement if
you can ‘cash out’.
Most games don’t permit this because of the difficulty in
balancing game economics.
If your virtual money eventually nets you real money or real prizes.
But we’re not talking about games, we’re talking about
There are still dangers.
Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.
You can reduce someone’s desire to participate in socially
approved programmes by financially rewarding.
The progress bar is a simple form of gamification feedback.
You’re this close to ‘the next level’
The company is this close to achieving our quarterly goals.
These can often be accompanied by a ‘levelling up’ mechanic.
You’ve probably seen this in online forums quite a bit.
As people level up in a gamification system, they often get
access to new titles, new achievements, and new powers
within the system.
Much akin to how one levels up in a roleplaying game.
How does it work?
Some it works simply by tickling some cognitive biases in the
In many ways we are hard-wired to enjoy games.
Best gamification techniques piggyback on reinforcement schedules.
Some of it works by exerting the tremendous power of social
There’s a reason why achievements are announced where possible.
There’s a reason why leaderboards often let you filter by localised
Your facebook friends, for example.
Much of it spurned on by natural competitiveness and rivalry,
Does it Work?
Yes and no.
It’s been shown to work remarkably well in certain contexts.
It’s also been shown to have no impact in other contexts.
Gamification is easy.
Gamification remains a controversial practise.
Gamifying well is not.
Bad gamification sometimes dismissed as ‘badgeification’
But one becoming more and more common, and you’ll hear about it more and
more in the coming years.
Taken to its extremes, Gamification has the potential to create a
Does it Work?
It can’t work for everything.
Do people not to something because they are not able to? Then
increase ease of use.
Do people not do it because they have no free time? Then work
Only if motivation is the issue can gamification be a
legitimate way of influencing behaviour.
Many people are motivated by intrinsic rewards.
Badly implemented, gamification can actually reduce desire to
‘Look, I’ve reached the top. Now, I don’t need to do this any more’
Games are fixed rule systems.
And offering an extrinsic reward will be counter productive and difficult
Humans are ruthless cost-benefit optimisers.
All systems can be gamed.
You can’t just throw it at a problem and expect it to work.
You need people who understand the psychology and the design of
games to do it properly.
Some Further Reading
Jane McGonigal’s TED talk:
Have a look at the following presentation:
It cites some stats on gamification successes.
And the following additional TED talk:
Jesse Shell – The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses
Jane McGonigal – Reality is Broken
Tom Chatfield – Fun Inc.
How do we gamify participation in higher education?
Increase quality of submitted work?
Increase level of attainment?
Increase level of outside reading?
Can we get all of them at once?
Do we have to sacrifice some to get others?
How could we gamify the lecture room?
What would work for you?
Gamification is a very powerful force.
It’s easy to gamify.
Or rather, it’s easy to badgeify.
It’s hard to gamify well.
But one that can be used for ill as well as good.
You need to be aware of:
It can encourage genuine increases in engagement.
But it can be done badly.